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Hidden Gems: Meet Kaitlin Mitchell of Rutabaga Education

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kaitlin Mitchell.

Hi Kaitlin, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Hi, I’m Kaitlin and I’m a gardening educator. My passion for learning about and growing food began when I was pregnant with my first child (now 11). My husband was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects digestion. I felt helpless and learning about the food we ate helped me feel proactive. The more knowledge I gained, the more I wanted to grow my own. Then, when my boys were babies, my husband became very ill, and we decided for me to stay home with my boys to lessen our family’s stress.

During this time, my husband was healing, and my family spent a lot of time experimenting and growing fruits and vegetables in our backyard (wherever we could find free space). I observed that growing food with my husband and children strengthened our family connections, and it instilled within my children a love of being outdoors and watching the miracles that happen from plant seed to harvest.

The majority of my professional background is in education, having taught for eight years as a classroom teacher within Solana Beach. When my oldest began Kindergarten, my son’s school recruited me to help with their garden program, and I jumped in with both feet. Not only did I get to use my “teacher brain” towards topics that I feel very passionate about, but my desire to strengthen the program and build a more robust garden community felt like a calling. I knew it would benefit these children’s lives, how this next generation treats our planet, and how they treat each other. It’s an arena of learning that promotes connection to nature and between children, regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds or learning and physical challenges.

Four years ago, our school showcased the program at a local garden education event. What fellow garden educators were most impressed with was the organization and content of our instruction. It became apparent that what is holding garden programs back from starting or flourishing is the lack of accessible and impactful content. That is when the light bulb to share these lessons turned on. The process began by taking our school curriculum and turning it into the Rutabaga Education Curriculum, a resource that could kick-start or enhance any school, organization, or home garden program.

Since completing the books, I’ve been overwhelmed by the curriculum’s reach in numerous realms. Besides starting and enhancing numerous school gardens all over the country, educators and parents are utilizing the books in creative ways I didn’t even expect. Examples include teaching high school special needs children skills that make them more marketable in the workspace, neighborhood and small farm garden programs, and even internship opportunities with college students teaching disadvantaged youth.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Owning a small business has taught me a lot about pivoting, especially in a global pandemic and various social and environmental issues that affect both community and the planet. For example, in 2020, when schools shut down most of their garden programs, I realized that many parents were now looking to incorporate garden enrichment at home or in small groups. Since the lessons are super accessible to teach, we pivoted our messaging to reach more of the home-based education audience.

Learning patience has also been a challenge, but time to grow has been, in retrospect, such a gift. It’s given me time to determine the most significant needs and challenges garden programs encounter and what projects I can take on to help those programs grow.

Last, since the inception of Rutabaga Education, I have encountered obstacles related to the juggle and many hats you wear as a small business owner. However, I’ve learned a lot about myself and where I shine, and where I seriously need to ask for help. One key learning is to surround yourself with talented people who also believe in your company’s mission. It helps to create messaging, and you get to work with people who want your company to succeed for the benefit of the greater good.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Rutabaga Education?
Rutabaga Education is a one-of-a-kind, easy-to-teach curriculum that incorporates garden-based science, nutrition, and nature, designed for grades K-4. (With lessons for fifth and sixth grade in the works.) It’s an accessible program for teachers, classroom volunteers, and homeschooling parents who are looking to grow the next generation of eco-conscious citizens. In addition, the books are the perfect resource for activating and providing structure to under-used school gardens and for those without gardens or limited by inclement weather.

As a gardener, teacher, and mother, I designed Rutabaga Education was to have an intuitive structure that offers 30 weeks of garden instruction throughout the school year, providing an engaging, holistic approach that touches on everything from healthy eating to composting, history to art, and conservation to mindfulness.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
When it comes to new gardeners, I recommend just starting and see where it grows. Expect the unexpected and know that whatever happens is a learning opportunity, and you’ll know better for the next time around. For fellow small business owners, I always recommend choosing work that has a conscience. It can be super intimidating and humbling to put your heart out there and hope the world receives it well. But, knowing your intentions are genuine keeps you centered and motivated for that greater good.

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Image Credits

Sibila Reyes
Thoughts by Brandi

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